What We Can Learn From Newsweek’s Ill-Begotten Breakup Cover of Newsweek's "final print cover" reading #LASTPRINTISSUEWith Print

Do you remember – not many do – a bolded declaration on the cover of Newsweek Magazine, reading #LASTPRINTISSUE? The year was 2012. Perhaps you were in line at your local grocery when you spotted it, or lazing around the newsstand at Barnes & Noble. The issue seemed to steam with irony when it went to print – no matter how forward-thinking it purported to be. The declaration would effectively sever the magazine from the “dying medium” of print… sitting on a shelf beside countless other printed titles, all of which carried on business as usual.

For Newsweek, a powerhouse on the print media scene, the move was meant to be a brazen statement about the direction of the media as a whole. Newsweek’s parent company seemed fairly certain they would spearhead the movement from a hybrid media landscape (consisting of print and digital), to a purely digital one. The company also cited declining advertising revenues and increasing production costs to justify its transition to an all-digital format. In announcing the decision, editor Tina Brown invoked a smattering of statistics about the popularity of digitized content (certainly not untrue). She concluded, We have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format.”

The move sent a low grade buzz through the media. Other news juggernauts wrote articles about the magazine’s print cessation…in their latest printed issues. The situation was rife with a kind of bemusing irony, if only for those who bothered to observe it.

Misinformed Predictions about the Future Media

At the time, Newsweek seemed assured that it was making a shrewd decision, given all the noise surrounding the topic. Publishers had predicted 2011 was to be the “year of the ebook.” Today, a Google query into the popularity of e-readers yields of host compelling results… almost categorically dated to 2012 – the year Newsweek made the decision to cease printing. Bookstore chain Borders liquidated in 2011, unable to compete with the newfound popularity of e-readers, (among a glut of other reasons). It seemed as though the comprehensive digitization of the media was underway. Furthermore, it seemed entirely inevitable.

Effective web content, skyrocketing mobile/e-reader use, and more sophisticated tech only seemed to be strangling print media – an unintentionally conjoint effort. Despite having built its success on it, Newsweek was ready to cut ties with print. And who could blame them? For a brief moment, the medium seemed to be outmoded by trendier digital platforms. It also prompted the question: were hard-copy books shortly behind hard-copy magazines in the line to the guillotine?

Alas, print media did not go gentle into that good night.

The move to digital and denunciation of print were premature, at best. A mere year and a half later, the print edition of Newsweek was resurrected. Those who’d stockpiled copies of the #LASTPRINTISSUE, hoping to collect high returns on Ebay someday, were sorely let down.  Can we assume that mismanagement at Newsweek was to blame for the publication’s financial woes, not its continued print presence? Regardless of where the fault lay, we can safely say it had been misattributed to print, informed by a lot of hype about that supposed “death” of a medium that still had a robust readership. The decision to strike its print presence was a kind of investment into the future of digital. But it was hopelessly misinformed and preterm.

In the interim, Newsweek had changed hands to IBT Media. A new business plan was drafted to rejuvenate the ailing news company. Among the tenants of this plan? A return to print. A return to print was accompanied by a return to profitability, and that says something.

Print Media: Still A Powerful Revenue Source

So, how does Newsweek’s tumultuous relationship with print media affect you, as a business owner? Quite simply, this debacle illustrated the enduring relevance of a medium that too many have been eager to denounce. Seeing as books are intrinsically and traditionally tied to print, with the majority of readers purchasing print books/magazines over their electronic alternative, Newsweek’s experience is a potent reminder that print publication is still a powerhouse revenue generator for all those wrestling with the idea of whether or not to invest in writing a book.

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